Rudi Caracciola's 1 of 1 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K found at LA salvage yard

Illustration for article titled Rudi Caracciolas 1 of 1 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K found at LA salvage yard

It's hard to believe one of the most valuable Mercedes in the world is sitting neglected in a building in South Central Los Angeles, but that's exactly where writer Michael Mraz located Rudi Caracciola's 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K.

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Mraz traces the history of this ultra rare car in this February's Town and Country magazine—currently on newsstands. Here are a few excerpts from the amazing tale of one of world's most desirable cars—

Illustration for article titled Rudi Caracciolas 1 of 1 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K found at LA salvage yard
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Caracciola himself with the 500K in 1937 Photo Credit: Mercedes-Benz Archive, Stuttgart, Germany

Few people know that one of the greatest cars Mercedes-Benz has produced in its 125-year history sits on flat tires, covered by 30 years of grime, in an unmarked building in South Central Los Angeles.

The 1935 Rudolf Caracciola Mercedes-Benz 500K "Roadster Limousine," one of the most beautifully struck and elegant prewar cars ever built, was commissioned as a gift for one of the most legendary race car drivers ever to turn the wheel. Based on recent auction figures, the 500K-one of the holy grails of car collecting-could be worth upward of $10 million if it ever came to auction.

But it sits nose to tail with scores of other exceedingly rare classic European cars as part of the mind-bogglingly vast inventory of the nondescript Porche (sic) Foreign Auto, an "auto dismantling" operation (junkyard is the more common term), which was founded in 1967 by a guy named Rudi Klein.

When Klein died in 2001, his amazing hidden collection of cars fell into the hands of his sons Ben and Jason Klein. While investigating the 500K Mraz started uncovering stories of the amazing cars the Klein's well guarded collection held.

Illustration for article titled Rudi Caracciolas 1 of 1 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K found at LA salvage yard

I was able to start compiling a rough catalog of what might be hiding in the junkyard behind those steel doors, or at the family's nearby warehouse: a pair of one-off prewar Maybachs; one of two Iso Grifo Spyders (designed and engineered by Giotto Bizzarrini, who also has the Ferrari 250 GTO on his résumé); one of 29 alloy-bodied Mercedes Gullwings, lighter, faster, and rarer than their steel siblings; a couple of BMW 502s and 507s; a half-dozen or so Lamborghini Miuras, with their mighty V12 engines; and the last surviving example of the seven Horch 855 Spezial Roadsters ever built, a specimen once owned by Eva Braun that was for a time on loan to the Audi Museum in Germany. (Audi was founded by August Horch.)

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Michael Mraz quickly discovered he wasn't the only one who knew where the 500K was. Michael Kunz, manager of the Mercedes Benz Classic Center, has been chasing the car for a while and has actually inspected the car personally. Ever since he has been trying to make a deal with the Kleins to unearth the car.

Illustration for article titled Rudi Caracciolas 1 of 1 1935 Mercedes-Benz 500K found at LA salvage yard
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The 500K at Pebble Beach in 1978
Photo Credit:William C. Brooks, Pebble Beach Concourse D'Elegance

Ten years ago Mercedes tried arranging a loan agreement with the Kleins so the 500K could be displayed-alone in its own room- at the company's museum in Fellbach, Germany. (Audi had arranged a similar deal with the Kleins for the restoration of the Eva Braun Horch.) But the deal fell apart after Rudi Klein's death, in 2001, for reasons that remain unclear.

Mercedes allegedly offered to do a full restoration, free of charge, an investment of perhaps a few million dollars, for the opportunity. (According to the Kleins, the 500K has a few dings on it but is otherwise in fairly good shape.)

"It was the right thing to do with that car," Kunz says. "I'm hoping at some point we can revisit that."

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Although Mraz was not able to inspect the car himself, he did eventually get the Klein's to briefly discuss the future of the 500K with him.

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The 500K after the cars 1965 restoration Photo Credit: Bobby'Dine Rodda

I ask Ben Klein what the future might hold for this car, given its storied past.

Will it finally make the pilgrimage to the Mercedes-Benz Museum, returning to the country whence it came? Will it wind up for sale and break another auction record? Will it continue to collect dust? Will it eventually crumble away into nothing?

He doesn't give any hint. But he does reveal a telling detail when I ask him if the 500K was the car Rudi Klein, his father, was most proud of. "For sure," he writes. "He kept a picture of the car in his wallet."

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If this isn't proof there are still amazing cars waiting to be found and brought back to life, we aren't sure what is.

(Current Porche Foreign Auto photo credit: Johnny Tergo)
Special thanks to Michael Mraz and Town & Country Magazine.

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DISCUSSION

Mecanicien
_Mécanicien

If that 500K was passed on to me by my father and was rotting in a shed somewhere, I think I know what I would do:

I would call Mercedes-Benz and tell them it's theirs to take.

I imagine them coming wearing embroidered haz-mat suits in nondescript vans and building a plastic bubble around the shed like in E.T. so they could put it away in a hermetically sealed container headed to a secret lab in Germany.

I wouldn't ask for money. No, instead I would ask for a private visit of that lab every few months to check out the restoration progress. Then, in a few years, on my final visit, a man in a tuxedo and white gloves would hand me a key and say: "it is ready, sir."

I would be the one to start it first. The one to take it for a very slow ride around the building, the one to park it in the museum next to a plaque with my name on it and the one to say: "Yes, I'm satisfied."

It is not a car anymore, it is a work of art for everyone to marvel at it's beauty.

On the other hand, if one of those Lamborghini Miuras was given to me: I would sell my other cars and take a loan so I could send it to the best Lamborghini specialist out there so it could be restored to it's former glory.

I would then take it home and learn about it:

Learn about its every nuts and bolts. About its curves and creases. About its every stitches in the leather and about the different sounds it makes.

I would then, on beautiful sunday afternoons, take it for rides in the south of France.

I would wear vintage Ray-ban shades and a light blue cotton shirt and roll down the window to fully hear the V12 engine roaring as I press my foot down.

Smile as I pretend to be Steve McQueen or James Stewart while shifting gears and simply enjoying that masterpiece of human engineering until the sun comes down. It would be mine and mine only. Almost a part of me and it would have a place on a hardwood floor in my living room so I could watch it every single day.

If I had on of those vintage Porsche, it would be a different story.

I would rebuilt it myself. I would put blood, sweat and tears into it until it's driveable.

Then I would the normal thing to do:

I would hoon the fuck out of it until the wheels drop off.